Mark Bradford cited in: Exh. Cat., London, White Cube, Through Darkest America by Truck and Tank, 2013-14, p. 83
Executed on a monumental scale, Mark Bradford’s 2015 painting, Untitled, is a vast and potent example of the artist’s socio-politically engaged practice. Inspired by the organic forms of moving water, the painting was displayed in Bradford’s 2015 solo exhibition Sea Monsters, which took place at the Gemeentemuseum, The Hague. Bradford is renowned for his interrogative and multimedia approach to abstract painting, which sees him combine a range of unconventional, everyday and found materials onto his canvases. In working with and reviving salvaged paper elements such as torn billboard posters, flyers, newspaper scraps, comic strips and magazines, the artist both physically and symbolically weaves together complex layers of social, historical, political, economic and personal significance into the fabric of his work. In Untitled, an intricate network of ridges, furrows and striations coalesces to form a mesmerising composition. Despite its abstract structure, the powerful monochromaticity and tactile, fragmentary surface of the work seem to evoke a plethora of representational scenes which range from the monumental to the microscopic, the beautiful to the sublime: craggy, snow-peaked mountains melt into roaring ocean waves that spiral into a meteoric constellation; this appears to shift, in turn, from a spider’s web to a fingerprint into layers of ancient rock strata. Such fluid ambiguity speaks poignantly to a technological, globalised and interconnected modern world, forever in flux. "The conversations I was interested in were about community, fluidity, about a merchant dynamic, and the details that point to a genus of change,” the artist has remarked; “The species I use sometimes are racial, sexual, cultural, stereotypical. But the genus I’m always interested in is change" (Mark Bradford cited in: ‘Market>Place: Mark Bradford’, Art21, November 2011, online).
Bradford was born in 1961 in Los Angeles, California, where he lives and works. Inspired by his own experiences, Bradford’s multimedia practice is centred around issues of social justice and historical representation both globally and within contemporary America. Speaking of his unique artistic project and penchant for collaging paper fragments into his works, the artist states: “How we build and destroy ourself are the materials that I’m really interested in, and paper is one of the main ways in which information is displayed” (Mark Bradford cited in: ‘Hauser & Wirth Presents Mark Bradford: New Works, Art & Object, 16 February 2018, online). Indeed, with their textured, variegated surfaces, his compositions reverberate with the contextual significance of Robert Rauschenberg’s Combines. Through his work, Bradford seeks to rebalance the scales of power by challenging historical tropes and confronting difficult and uncomfortable issues. His technical process, which involves layering, peeling, scraping and gouging to produce his final compositions, becomes a powerful metaphor for the unravelling and exposing of preconceived – and often misconceived – notions of gender, sexuality and race that are still deeply entrenched in social consciousness today. Influenced as much by America’s civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s, and the AIDs epidemic of the 1980s, as by the Black Lives Matter movement of the present day, Bradford’s hypnotically intricate surfaces examine the intangible ways in which history and the past are entwined within the present.
Celebrated as amongst the most influential artists of his generation, Bradford has seen widespread critical and public acclaim in recent years. He has had international solo shows at galleries and museums including Hauser & Wirth, Los Angeles, in 2018; the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., in 2017; and the Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai, in 2015. Most notably, the artist represented the United States at the 2017 Venice Biennale with a major solo exhibition entitled Tomorrow is Another Day. Among the abstract painters that have most influenced his work, Bradford cites Norman Lewis and Jack Whitten; indeed, some vital essence of their socially driven compositions is echoed in Bradford’s own pictorial language. Fascinated and haunted by the overlapping, intersecting palimpsest of life in a cosmopolitan age, Bradford’s monumental canvases mobilise formal abstraction as a potent tool for a revelatory and profound social commentary. Through the elaborately layered collage of the present work, Bradford points to a liberated, progressive world of shared ideals, fluid identities, and plural existences, camouflaged just below the surface.
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